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How Often Should I Go?

Prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) it was common for Catholics to go to Confession at least monthly if not every other week. Some even went weekly. For some it didn’t matter if they didn’t know of any mortal sins they had committed. You went because you were supposed to.

After the Second Vatican Council, the pendulum swung from one side to the other. Many people went from going often to going once a year. Some haven’t gone in years (there are some who do go regularly).

It’s unfortunate when shifts in practice are so extreme. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a gift (see my booklet “The Gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation”). It is the gift of God’s mercy. It is the gift of God’s forgiveness made possible by Jesus giving his life for us on the Cross.

So, the question becomes how often should one go to Confession. Should one go weekly, monthly, etc.? The answer lies not in a set interval. The answer I offer to how often one should go to Confession is simple. How often do you commit mortal sin? If you know you have committed a mortal sin, the time to go to Confession is now.

So, why did people go to confession weekly or monthly? Human beings are not perfect. We sin. We cannot save ourselves. God can save us. This is what Jesus came for.

Unfortunately, the reality that we are not perfect became what has been known as “Catholic guilt.” Acknowledging we are not perfect, the thought was you must have done something wrong. The reality is sometimes we sin often. Other times we can go for a while without sinning. When we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confess our sins, we acknowledge our need for God’s merciful forgiveness and that we need God’s grace to do better.

So, why did people stop going to confession often? I think part of it is poor communication about the church’s understanding about the Sacrament. People readily heard they didn’t need to go if they didn’t know of any sins they committed.

The part that got missed was that you still needed to go when you do commit mortal sin. Add to this is a loss of the sense of sin. People went from thinking they sinned a lot to thinking that little they do is mortal sin (see my recent articles “Is There Still Sin in the World” and “The Battle Against Sin”).

We commit sin at times. With our awareness of our sins, we feel guilty. Guilt can be a motivator to work harder and seek God’s grace to avoid sin. Unfortunately, guilt can lead to feeling we are no good. We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). That means we have goodness within us. After creation, “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31a). That includes humanity. That includes us.

The purpose of confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not shame. It is so that God can heal us of our sins (for more on healing, see my presentation, Sacraments: Channels of God’s Grace, Sacraments of Healing). God heals the brokenness caused by sin. God restores us to the goodness we are created with.

So, how is one to know when they have sinned? Sometimes, it is obvious. We know it as soon as we commit the sin. Other times, we realize it later. When we realize we have committed mortal sin, we go to the Sacrament. Sometimes we go a while without being aware of sin. If we go a while without being aware of any sin, it is good for us to make a formal “Examination of Conscience” to review what we have been doing. If you still find you haven’t sinned, thank God. If you have sinned, go the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confess them.

Normally, Lent is a time when many people confess their sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many churches plan extra opportunities for the Sacrament during Lent. That didn’t happen this year because of the Coronavirus. That’s unfortunate because the stress caused by the Coronavirus might have made some people weaker in resisting sin.

Even now, with churches beginning to reopen, going to Confession hasn’t returned to “normal.” Confessionals tend to be small and not well ventilated so confessions are being held in more open spaces. The most traditional time for confessions to be offered is right before the Saturday vigil Mass. With people arriving for Mass, confessions can’t be held in the open church. So, in many parishes, Confessions are being offered at other times. In St. Luke’s where I serve, we are currently offering confessions by individual appointment so we can properly social distance. If you find you need to confess your sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, call your parish office to see when the Sacrament is offered.

If you haven’t been to confession in a while and don’t remember what to do, check out “The Sacrament of Reconciliation” for a video and additional handouts on what to do.

Know that God loves you and is ready to forgive you. You just need to ask in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


Fr. Jeff

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